MILWAUKEE — Hospital demand for blood continues to grow, as the number of people donating blood continues to drop.
A new offering at blood drives is helping inspire more people to donate, and find out some important information about their own health.
“There are pressing needs for blood every single day,” said Justin Kern, spokesperson for Red Cross of Wisconsin. “There are still people giving birth every day, getting cancer treatments, having surgeries, and getting severely injured every day. We're hoping this blood drive can buoy us through what is expected to be a much lower turnout over the next month or two. During holiday time we tend to see a dip in donations, especially in the winter because of weather, and people getting the flu, to say nothing of the pandemic.”
The Red Cross hosted a blood drive Monday at the Tripoli Shrine Center, while Versiti is hosting blood drives Monday and Tuesday at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Appointments are strongly encouraged, but walk-ins are taken as space allows to abide by social distancing guidelines.
This comes as thousands of blood drives have been canceled since March, resulting in more than 1 million blood donations going uncollected.
Kylie Petlak normally donates when her workplace organizes a drive, but work is now remote, so she has to search out new opportunities. Her own sister’s life was saved by blood transfusions more than 10 years ago.
“Seeing as resources are so limited at the hospitals right now, and blood is something they can only get from other people, it’s a small way to feel like I’m doing my part to help,” Petlak said. “After seeing what my sister went through, and how she relied on someone else’s donation to live. I would hope that if I were ever not healthy, I would be able to benefit from donations and resources. It’s something I can do right now, and it has very little impact on me, while others are going through so much.”
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A new feature when donating blood is finding out whether you have COVID-19 antibodies.
“COVID-19 antibody testing is now part of our standard testing,” said Nikki Chalsma with Versiti. “So if you donate blood, your blood will be tested, and you'll find out in up to three weeks if you tested positive for the COVID-19 antibodies.”
“It's been something that's really engaged a lot of people to come out, especially a lot of first-time donors,” Kern said. “The Red Cross has also made COVID-19 antibody testing part of standard blood donation testing.”
If COVID-19 antibodies are found in your blood, you’re encouraged to make a future appointment to donate convalescent plasma, the portion of blood rich in antibodies that can help speed-up recovery for people actively fighting coronavirus. Doctors say every one plasma donation can help treat up to three COVID-19 patients.
“The rate that we're collecting plasma, it’s flying off the shelves the minute we collect it,” Chalsma said.
And if you have any safety concerns about donating blood, you can be assured that everyone is masked and distanced at these blood drives.
There are hand sanitizer and temperature checks upon entering. Experts also confirm that donating blood or plasma does not harm your immune system, and COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through giving blood.